The draw is in tatters and as yesterday began, there were only three grand slam champions still standing at the All England Club. Admittedly, they had 20 major trophies between them, but there were only three men left who knew what it took to win seven best-of-five set matches.
Now two of them have to face each other: Roger Federer and Marin Cilic, pictured below. Tomorrow the 17-time grand slam champion will take on the US Open champion of 2014 for a place in the semi-finals.
Federer’s eyes have a slightly brighter twinkle since the departure of Novak Djokovic on Saturday. The Swiss was scheduled to meet the world No 1 in the semi-finals – and that does little for a chap’s confidence if he has his heart set on winning the title. But now Federer is the favourite to come through the top half of the draw and an 18th grand slam title and an eighth Wimbledon title are beginning to come into focus.
Federer, though, is no mug. He has been doing this for far too long to let himself get carried away. Yesterday he dealt neatly and efficiently with the challenge of Steve Johnson 6-2, 6-3, 7-5 and is now planning to take evasive action against Cilic and his monster serve. The last time they played, the Croat steamrollered him on his way to the US Open final and that first major title.
“I practised with Marin when I arrived here at Wimbledon,” Federer said. “He was playing great. 1‑2, 1‑2, 1‑2, serving, boom, forehand, serving, boom, backhand. He’s very aggressive. He blew me off the court at the US Open. I know what I’m getting into.
“He’s really tough to play. He’s really improved his serve in the last few years, especially since the US Open. I’ve never seen him serve that consistently well. He can clearly do it here at Wimbledon, too.
“But I’m happy about my game as well, that I’ve been able to rise now to the occasion and play a really good match against Johnson today. I think it was by far my best match. I’m confident going to the Cilic match.”
There were doubts about Federer’s fitness as the tournament started. He had knee surgery in February while a back injury forced him to miss the French Open and not even he knew quite what state he was in as he arrived in London. But, match by match, he has improved and he has looked more relaxed and more confident. So far, though, he has not really been tested – Cilic will be a step up in class, particularly as he is coached by Goran Ivanisevic, the 2001 champion. “Goran’s done a wonderful job with Marin,” Federer said. “I think he’s a very easy guy to work with. But he got him to the next level. I think that’s a credit to Goran and Marin listening, believing in himself that he could play this big. I don’t know if he himself believed he could actually win a grand slam. A lot of credit to himself, but also Goran for getting him there.”
Cilic booked his appointment with Federer when Kei Nishikori pulled out of their fourth-round encounter trailing the Croat 6-1, 5-1. A ribcage injury had got progressively worse as the match wore on and the Japanese could not play through the pain.
Sam Querrey built on his giant-slaying achievements and having done for Djokovic on Saturday, he moved swiftly past Nicolas Mahut 6-4, 7-6, 6-4 and now takes on Milos Raonic. That will not be one for the faint hearted – two of the biggest serves in the business going toe to toe. Raonic had to keep his nerve to recover from a two-set deficit before beating David Goffin 4-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in a flurry of 22 aces.